After work the other day I walked down to the liquor store. I didn’t go to buy some wine or to check out the merchandise. I walked in to see a good friend of mine that works there. After talking with him, I went to hang out with one of my closest friends for the rest of the evening. She is Muslim. As the last few months have passed, I have developed such a love for these two people, and for many others in my life that do not know Christ. Perhaps in times past I have not allowed myself to get close enough to care so much.
For the majority of my life, I have had mixed feelings about the concept of evangelism. The picture in my mind was always of missionaries who went into a tribe to preach the Gospel, and in a year everyone was wearing jeans and a t-shirt just like them. Church had the same liturgical style that the missionaries loved back home. The natives stopped hunting and started farming instead. Everyone was required to learn English and read the Bible in the King James Version. They all basically gave up their culture for this “Jesus” that didn’t even sound like the Jesus I read about in the Bible.
What about evangelism in the States? My mind goes immediately to door-to-door “three steps to know where you will spend eternity” pitches with people that have never met one another before and will most likely never see each other again. Then I think about those outspoken types that everyone gets annoyed with. You know who I’m talking about: the kind that always speak their mind about everyone else’s business when everyone else knows that the one talking has more problems than anyone else they know. Maybe the one talking is too “perfect”…too good to be true. She has no sense of humor and cannot relate to normal people’s conversations. None of these really seem appealing to me. They make me feel uncomfortable.
I hate it when someone tries to tell me how to feel, and I hate it even more when someone tells me what I should believe. I’m not a fan of sales people, because everyone knows they are only trying to sell you something to benefit themselves, no matter how much they smooth talk you into believing they want what’s best for you. What’s the benefit of evangelism? Well if I can convince you to believe something, then perhaps it would feed my ego. If my church can convert more people than the church down the street, then we must be more in touch with God. We must be holier than they are. It is a sign that God is truly blessing OUR ministry.
Evangelism has always left a bad taste in my mouth, and whenever people have said that we’re going out to do evangelism, my stomach has turned because I feel like we’re entering like conquistadors into a place, seeking in essence to “conquer for Jesus”. In the past when I have done it, that is how I felt. What happens is, many people end up losing even more respect for Christians. I can almost hear what they’re thinking: we’re ok with what we believe, but it appears that you are not ok simply believing what you believe. Why would you try to force your beliefs on us?
So I just accepted a position to move to South America for two and a half years to do what again? Evangelism. Sweet. This is one of those things that if I were writing the story of my life, I would definitely not have included this one in the chapter list. However, God wouldn’t let it go, and I love Him too much to refuse to do something that He has made it so clear He wants me to do. If I could be honest for a few minutes, I will share how God is beginning to soften my heart toward something that I have been so hostile toward for many years.
Looking at how Jesus conducted His ministry for three years, there is such a stark difference between His style and so many of the styles I see churches organizing today. Somehow, Jesus connected with people at their point of need, whether it was a health infirmity, a loved one in trouble, or a simple curiosity. He found the place of their hunger and spoke truth where before there had only been empty rules and regulations. People were attracted to Him because they knew that He cared about the things that mattered deeply to them, and also because He spoke a truth that resonated within the hunger of their hearts.
One of the things about Jesus that is so amazing is that He didn’t love people just so they would believe what He was telling them. Obviously, He longed for people to accept truth, and He knew better than anyone the consequences of denying it. What’s even more stunning is that Jesus didn’t try to talk people into believing the truth either. If He did anything, He tried to talk people out of it (at least the ones who were only half serious about it). Time after time someone would walk up to Him and say, “I will follow you wherever you go!” and Jesus would respond with a list of reasons why the person shouldn’t: the person may not have a place to live or they might have to sell everything they have. He was honest about the cost. Jesus wasn’t looking to win everyone to His cause; rather He gave light to a people He loved who were surrounded by darkness. He proclaimed undiluted truth that was more real than the impressive and obvious hypocrisy everyone was so used to seeing. He knew that they were searching for something more, and He knew that He was the answer.
When I think about the love that Jesus had for everyone, that He would step out of the heavens, come as a little child, live with them and give His life at their hands, I am amazed. Then I think to myself, do I love anyone that much? Have I allowed myself to care about anyone besides myself to the degree that I would step out of the wonderful comfort zone that I have grown to love, enter into their world, live with them and give my life for them? That is quite a sacrifice. That is complete denial of myself, and as much as I talk about it in church or even in my blogs, I wonder if I have even scratched the surface of understanding such a love. This is the same love that God is calling me to have and to show for the next two and a half years. It’s not about conquering a neighborhood or a city for Jesus. It’s not even about building a bigger church with more members than the next city over where people are doing the same thing. It’s about learning how to love people like Jesus did. It’s about taking on the heart of God and seeing these people through His eyes. It’s about proclaiming raw truth to a society that has believed a lie. It’s about bringing light to a people that have only known darkness. And lest I start to believe that my great knowledge or belief system is the light these people need to see and the message they need to hear, may God humble me in any way necessary to understand that it is Him and only Him who will satisfy the deep hunger in their hearts. It is His love, not mine that they need.
I want to love people like God loves them. That is such a dangerous thing to say. Surely it will break my heart day after day. I know that I will wrestle inside and out with the darkness that has infiltrated lives for so long. In many ways, God’s light is still breaking through the darkness in my life as well. Despite how difficult I know it will be and the cost that Jesus has made so clear, I desire more than anything to know Christ and to become like Him. I want to know His love and passion for the world; I want it to consume every part of me. There is no place for lukewarm bodies in the Kingdom of God. I can’t love Jesus and keep myself at a distance from those for whom He gave everything. That just doesn’t make any sense.
My prayer for the next two and a half years is this: may God strip away everything in me that is not of Him and may He renew my passion for those who do not know Him. May He use my life to proclaim truth in the midst of lies and shine His light in pitch-black darkness. May His love fill me to the point of overflowing so that everyone He loves becomes everyone that I love as well. I don’t want to operate from any other center. I want to understand that evangelism is not about conquering the world and my meager efforts to “save the lost”. Who am I to believe that I can “save” anyone? Rather, it is about loving my neighbor next door and around the world. It is about drawing so close to my Savior’s heart that others come to know Him simply by knowing me. That is what I desire for my life. That is the prayer that I have been praying. Take from me whatever You will and send me wherever You will. Help me to love like You.